“Who Says You’re Overweight?”- Why BMI and Societal Expectations Shouldn’t Dictate Your Self-Worth (November 2017)
“I am overweight.”
Clients tell me this on a daily basis. They hear it from loved ones, their health care team, or the media.
With all of this judgment, it is no wonder that people have a poor relationship with food and their body. So often, people are told that they are “X” pounds overweight according to a height and weight chart that claims to measure BMI (Body Mass Index). Sadly, these charts do not take into consideration an individual’s genetics, muscle mass, culture or dieting history and, therefore, do not have even a sliver of the whole picture.
The discussion over BMI is one that I have constantly with clients and other members of the health care team. BMI was developed in the 19th century by a Belgium statistician. It is worth noting that this man was a mathematician, not a physician. He calculated the formula as a quick and easy way to measure the degree of obesity of the general population. The intention behind this was to assist the government in allocating resources.
This methodology is outdated and the calculation is off.
This mathematical equation assumes low muscle mass and high relative content and does not take into consideration an individual’s actual muscle mass, bone mass or fat. As such, it only applies moderately to a limited population of people because it was formulated by focusing on them. The calculation provides the wrong answer for a large and significant section of the population. For example, based on this narrow equation, fit people who live in larger bodies would be considered “unhealthy.”
To combat the negative assumptions that arise from the inaccuracies of the BMI, I like to teach clients to shift their focus instead to how they physically feel.
One of the best questions to ask is: how is my energy on a daily basis? Sometimes our energy is down and we can tell when it is not where we would like it to be. Additionally, consider, questions such as:
Do I have the stamina to walk up a flight of stairs without being winded?
Do I have a body positive relationship with myself?
Am I in acceptance with where I am at physically or do I frequently monitor what I will or will not eat?
Is my weight a topic that floods my mind and I am obsessed with?
Do I find satisfaction in food?
When I eat until I find satisfaction, am I able to stop knowing that I am able to have this same delicious experience again?
The answers to these questions are often far better indicators of our health and well-being than a black-and-white calculation.
Our culture states that, in order to be beautiful, we must lose weight. This makes the measure of BMI even more dangerous.
People that are not actually unhealthy are being told they are overweight and our society considers this “unacceptable.” Living in the “thin ideal” is not easy. The beauty and fashion world glamorize it and this is how, at younger and younger ages, people want to change their body.
It’s time to make a conscious shift away from taking what the outside world says about our weight and appearance at face value, pun intended. It is not possible to determine one’s health simply by looking at them or performing a basic math problem.
Instead of constantly being concerned with what society says we are or are not, we should accept our body as it is. Once we accept our bodies, we can learn how to listen to them when they tell us they are hungry, full, need to be moved, or need to relax.
When we can get off the diet train and start learning how to treat our body with kindness, respect and living the lifestyle that you makes you happy then we can focus on other aspects of our life instead of unrealistic goals based on limited and arbitrary calculations.